Tag Archives: Learning

How to Blend Learning #1

The ‘blended’ in ‘blended learning’ means combining in-class with online teaching. It can be synchronous (live) or asynchronous. It’s touted as one way to be lockdown ready. I propose it’s the only way to be 21st century ready.

It’s not something to do ‘while we get through this’. It’s a permanent redefinition of learning. What it offers is long overdue: a necessary kick start to finally break from the educational practices that fuelled the first Industrial Revolution, to fully prepare students for the demands of the fourth. We need to get this right.

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

There are three ways to come at blended learning:

1. Plan learning for in-class then transform it to work online.
2. Plan learning for online then transform it to work in-class.
3. Integrate all learning spaces then plan the learning.

Embarking on 1 and 2 risks a frustrating ‘good enough’ short-termism. 3 lays deep foundations where learning is central, not the tools or methods of its delivery.

1. Planning an in-class lesson to work online prompts the search for web tools that will replicate face to face activities. This will only ever partially succeed. In-class will never be the same as online. We’ll never achieve the full authenticity of a classroom where we’re all breathing the same air.

2. Likewise, planning an online lesson to work in-class is equally doomed. The range and flexibility of web tools cannot be replicated in the ‘real’ world. Online collaboration, editing, access to information, creativity – these and more are in a completely different league to their in-class counterparts.

3. The third approach separates learning from the debate about online vs in-class. It challenges us to take a different, long term view:

Think big about how and where learning happens.
Take time to bring your philosophy of learning to life.

1 and 2 fuss about which mug to use. 3 considers the quality of the coffee.

Places where learning can take place are combined into a whole. School, library, bus, bedroom, street, in-class, online. Learning doesn’t stop with a school bell or start with a log on.

Online happens to be a place where we can collaborate and create. In-class happens to be a place where high quality discussion takes place. Research in the library; debriefs on the bus; texting in the street. Learning is bigger than school and bigger than online.

Effective learning is independent of the tools or spaces used to bring it to life. We all have a philosophy of learning. Mine cites eight evidence-based features that underpin learning design:

  • Relationships
  • Visual Thinking
  • High Order Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Self-efficacy
  • Feedback
  • Active Learning
  • Peer Teaching

These are not tied to a room or a screen. We can build learning relationships online and face to face; we can think visually at a screen or in a forest; feedback can be verbal, written, emailed, texted or videoed.

Don’t get caught in the twin traps of, ‘How do I make this work online?’ or ‘How do I make this work in-class?’ Instead ask, ‘What is my philosophy of learning? Which principles work best?’ Then, looking at all the tools and resources and places and spaces available to you and your pupils ask, ‘How do I bring this philosophy to life?’

Thinking Classroom resources from September 2020 will help you to do this.

Elizabeth and her Kids

Eventually I decided to invite Elizabeth to my online Zoom training. She’d given birth to twin boys in May but was happy to bring them along. She’s not sure where their father is at the moment. Most of the other delegates laughed when she logged on. But that didn’t surprise me; you’ve not seen Elizabeth. She didn’t say anything and only stayed for five minutes. I’ve not seen her since but I did email afterwards to see if she was OK – and to say how much we valued her visit.

Elizabeth is a four-year-old goat. She lives at Cronkshawfold Farm in Lancashire, UK and for £5.99 she’ll come to your online meeting. On the face of it, a novelty, a welcome relief among 200 lockdown Zoom calls. But also a gift to the wonderful educators in the training session:

Our 5-year-olds would love this during teacher check-in.
We could show our own pets.
We could build a STEM lesson on this (see below)
We could invite neighbourhood professionals for a Q&A.
We could get our friends to show the view from their windows – in Ohio, Dubai, Skye, Nairobi

We could show an object close up and slowly zoom out.
We could, we could, we could….

Elizabeth (and her two kids) kick started our creativity with their perfect innovation. Perfect in my eyes because her fee helps fund Cronkshawfold’s purchase and installation of renewable technologies. A loss transformed to a gain – see previous post here.


The 3Rs are Dead; Long Live the 4Rs

29th December 2019 was just another Black Friday in Carnaby Street, London. But unlike its neighbours, the Raeburn clothes store was closed. A sign outside read, ‘Buy Nothing Repair Something’. The sign is now a poster inside the shop,

Today we are closed for business and open for creativity. We’ve disabled our online shop and closed our physical stores.

Raeburn’s design lab up the road in Hackney stayed open and offered a free community drop in repair service – of any brand or no brand of clothing.

Why is it that Timberland, The North Face, Disney and many others seek out Raeburn and, more specifically, founder and lead designer Christopher Raeburn? Why do they want to collaborate and co-create? The answer is simple: it’s the company’s integrity; approach to design and because of its care for our precious planet. Christopher says,

I think as a designer you have an obligation to consider what you are doing and why; ultimately, we want to make strong, sustainable choices…

Companies want his thinking. They want his why and his how more than his what. He’ll help them remake their own what (their product) into something that’s far, far more than it was before.

The Raeburn philosophy comprises 4Rs – the first eponymous, the rest world changing and we’ll look at them here in turn:

Raemade, Raeduced, Raecycled garments


There’s a great deal of excess military clothing and equipment out there – unused, unusable or unsafe – and Christopher Raeburn hunts it down with archaeological rigour. It’s then taken apart and rebuilt.

Imagine a bomber jacket that was once a fighter plane’s parachute air-brake; a silk dress cut from a cold war battlefield map or a jacket that used to sit poised and packed as a Chinese air force parachute.

It’s all about value, about thinking in lifetimes not days. Each garment is numbered so you know you’ve bought one of a small run. You also know Raeburn will repair it free of charge forever, and when it’s beyond repair will remake it again: jacket to cushion to handkerchief to wallet is a wholly probable evolution over decades. Put simply, less clothes, lasting longer.

The principle: seek out the surplus, find the excess, bring it out of storage and make it into something new (but with a design nod to its heritage, its provenance).

An air-brake, RÆMADE
Cold War silk maps. Archived, stored, found, RÆMADE


RÆDUCED products come from new natural fibres; generally (GOTS Certified) Organic Cotton items, but also wool and silk. The RÆDUCED ethos looks at decreasing impact through addressing CO2/water/transport issues.

New, digitally printed silk (from Moving to Mars)

The principle: think long term across a product’s whole lifetime – its birth, life, journey, changes and death – and only then judge its value and its cost. And ask, just how many clothes do I actually need?


If it can be used again, use it again. Wool can be respun, cotton can be respun. Plastic can be gathered and reformed. Raeburn sell a cashmere sweater. Not quite 100% – a mix of Tencel (from wood pulp), Polyamide (reused plastic) and reclaimed cashmere. They argue, why use new when used can be reused?

The principle: Why is it sitting there in landfill? What can it become instead and how can this transformation best happen?

Raeburn brand thinking is inspiring, necessary, and scalable. Its transformative and transferable. That’s why, from this learning designer’s perspective it is so compelling.

In an educational environment veering dangerously close to a retro and reductive 3Rs ethos, we desperately need this kind of 4R thinking.

The Reading, wRiting and aRithmatic will take care of themselves – these skills are functional, foundational and easily acquired through systematic proven programmes – which will become ever more effective once we fully commit to and trust machine learning and artificially intelligent products.

But currently that’s all we seem to do – drill the basics – especially in primary schools. Children loose their childhood, their play, their chances to create. Design has been designed out of the curriculum; the future hobbled by a mis-remembered ‘golden’ past and troubled by an overloaded, anxious present. We must design and produce a transformation of learning through principles like Raeburn’s Rs.

Something to think about:

In your day to day teaching, what can be remade, reduced, recycled – practically as in actual materials and objects, or pedagogically as in ways of teaching and learning?

What are your 4 principles of teaching and/or learning?

Thanks to Jake and Marina for talking me through the brand ethos.

I’ll be creating a series of resources this year linked to ethical design and principles like Raeburn’s. Look out on the website and in the monthly mailing.


Contact Raeburn direct for lab tours and workshops.


Becoming a Mediator

Conflict 1

Becoming a Mediator

I’m involved in a workplace disagreement today. My partner (business and life), Lucy (above, top, bearing down), wants my input on finance and marketing jobs; I’d planned to write resources. We’re not on task because we’ve got the extra job of arguing. Five minutes of sulking (me); justification (her); and a coffee in the kitchen fixed it. After 20 years of occasional working from home we’re good at the swift resolution of minor misunderstandings.

But I’m not making light of the serious stuff; the scenarios where interpersonal conflict undermines confidence and diminishes productivity. These are workplace ‘disagreements’ that really hurt and cause lasting harm. Professional relationships sour into manipulation, harassment and bullying where one human being willfully (or even accidentally) damages another. It might be a difference of opinion, banter gone too far, unhealthy competition or even sexual and physical abuse. All are commonplace; none need go unacknowledged or unresolved.

As a coach I see a lot of this second hand. 90% of my coaching work includes  ‘people issues’. My clients are either involved or trying to sort things out, and are often wholly unprepared to do so.  As well as this, coachees sometimes have internal conflict, battling with themselves, beating themselves up or judging themselves against some irrelevant personal criteria. You could say they have a longstanding workplace grievance against themselves. I can work with that, it’s my job, but I can’t reach beyond and into their workplace unless invited to do so.

So I’ve decided to invite myself, by training as a mediator. I’ve decided it’s a natural and necessary development of my professional offer and my training starts in March. I’ll share the journey with you here and I hope it helps you in some way too. You can even join me on the training if you like – details here

Starting Points

Conflict is a fact of life in the modern workplace; against a backdrop of tumultuous political and economic change and highly pressurised work environment.
Managing conflict in the modern workplace, CIPD 2020

CIPD Workplace Report
If you want to know the scale of the challenge – and what to do about it – start here. This report from CIPD describes the good, the bad and the ugly of the contemporary workplace. One finding (from over 1000 respondents) suggests that, “people managers are at the forefront of identifying and managing conflict, as well as often being a cause of it.” Conflict arises from differences in personality and working styles and the most common associated behaviour is lack of respect.

The potential impact is stark:

Our findings show how devastating the negative effects of conflict can be on people. Stress, a drop in motivation or commitment, anxiety and a loss of self confidence are the most common effects on people, but some individuals say the impact is felt for years, and their confidence will never be the same again.

However there’s good news, which is part of the compelling attraction of mediation,

Respondents to our employer survey are significantly more likely to report a number of tangible outcomes in their ability to handle conflict where they have invested in people management skills training for their managers. 

Learning to Mediate

Obviously nothing replaces actually doing it under the guidance of experienced trainers, but I’ve found The Mediator’s Handbook an inspiring and practical read. It’s a ‘what/how’ book rather than a ‘why’ one, covering the principles and practice of successful mediation. I think I’ll leave it laying around next time I’m working from home.

Mediators Handbook

Something to Think About

  • What kind of situations cause workplace conflict?
  • What’s your experience of conflict or grievance?
  • What, exactly, is conflict?
  • Is one person’s conflict another’s lively debate or bonding chat?

Website: www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Contact: mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Active Learning and The First Kiss

omar-lopez-716653-unsplashFirst memory? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember where you were; what happened; how it felt. Or at least you remember remembering.

First lecture? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember where you were; what it was about; the lecturer’s clothes. Really?

First film you ever saw at the cinema? Emotionally significant? Powerful? You remember the cinema, the film, the story?

First day of school…first this first that first other. What do we learn from firsts? And what have they got to do with Active Learning?

Our firsts, our lasts and our interesting-in-betweens are memorable because they are different; they involve a significant change. A first is a change from not having/being/doing to having/being/doing. When you start something there’s a change, a difference; when you end it there’s another change; something weird in the middle is a change as well. Change is difference; difference is noticeable; noticeable is engaging; and if you are engaged you are active. Firsts, lasts and interesting get your brain involved.

Active means involved – like you were with your first kiss. You noticed that, right? Remembered it? Learned it. Replayed it.

In formal learning, you’re active when you have control, ownership, when you can affect things. Sitting and listening to someone else’s choice of topic delivered in someone else’s style is not active. You make it active by acting: by walking out to go and find your own curriculum presented in a way that suits you more.

Passive is great for the teacher. Bad for the student.

Going active with learning is a risk. You have to trust your students to act well; act in their best interests; act for their learning’s sake. Much easier to control them than share the ownership.

Why don’t we do active learning? Top 3 answers:

  1. We don’t know what it is and why it’s better than what we do now.
  2. We’re scared we won’t cover the curriculum.
  3. We don’t trust our students to share ownership of the learning with us.

And the top 3 reasons why we should do active learning:

  1. Students deserve it – their future demands it of them.
  2. Research justifies it.
  3. It’s more satisfying for everyone.

And finally, 3 ways to do active learning:

  1. Ask students about really effective lessons (and do more).
  2. Ask students to prove to you that they’ve learned. Challenge them. Push them.
  3. Make students accountable for their success. It’s up to them, not you.
  4. Embed the unexpected and the surprising. Plan in firsts, lasts and interestings.

Do You Let Your Pupils Doodle?


Doodle by Mike Fleetham during briefing about new Ofsted inspection framework. October 2018

The Guardians of Doodle

The 24th September 2011 was an important day for doodlers but it may have passed you by. That is, unless you happened to be reading volume 378, issue 9797 of The Lancet, in which an article by G D Schott mentioned that,

Those in the “doodling” group performed better on the auditory monitoring task, and on a subsequent memory test.

G D Schott (thanks by the way, I doodle a lot) was referring to work by another doodle guardian, Jackie Andrade, whose original article puts a figure on this doodle-benefit,

The doodling group performed better … and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.

****Popular press bad science alert warning watch out think first message****

This is one piece of research on a very small group of humans which concluded that for some of them, in a staged experiment, recall might be better by 29%. On this basis, DON’T yet put doodling on your curriculum; DON’T buy everyone in school a doodle pad, doodle pens and DON’T by any means write an Ofsted-ready Doodle policy. Can you image what the margins of that one might look like?

Doodle Research

However, DO think about your own experience of doodling; DO consider its possible benefits for your pupils, how you might include it in lessons and DO plan a small piece of class-based research that might help you to explore the idea a bit more.

Or to get started, maybe you’d like to try this:

As a teacher or leader, it’s likely you’ll be going on a course before too long. Might even be one of mine. If you are, try out a bit of doodling during the input. Maybe you’d do this anyway but if not, have a go. Circles, squares, squiggles, blocks, loops, patterns, people – whatever flows out of your pen. Then, during first coffee, whip out your doodle and see if it triggers memories about the session content. If you’ve been allowed out in a pair (rarer these days) do this with your buddy. If not, try it with a stranger. Your opening line (and safeguard if you’re called to task by the course leader for not paying attention) might be,

Andrade, from 2009 proposes that doodling might stabilise arousal at an optimal level -keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom – and also, more particularly, that doodling might aid concentration by reducing day dreaming. That’s why I appeared not to be listening. Do you like my tessellation? Learn this by heart.

Do let me know how you get on. That doodle of mine at the top of this post is an interesting one. When I look back at it, I can recall the room I was in, who I sat with, what the presenter was like – even a few words from the PowerPoint – and a melancholic irony framed by my imagined words, ‘here we go again.’

December 2018 – New resources for Visual teaching and learning at thinkingclassroom.co.uk





Where to Speak 600,000 Words

bus inside

Which part of a bus is the most important? The engine? The driver? Wheels, brakes, fog lights? The passengers? No. It’s the Literacy Alcove.  The Literacy Alcove is usually towards the center, or at the front on the left. It normally has fold-down seats, is often filled with push chairs, babies, toddlers and their mums.  The buggy-baby-toddler-mum area. Where wheelchair users go too.

I propose that it’s here where a nation’s future is forged; where economic success is made or broken and where personal fulfillment begins.

Bold claims for a bit of a bus. Let me explain why:

I travel a lot. I choose public transport when I can, walk if it’s sunny and fly if I have to. I use buses a great deal. I see what goes on in the Literacy Alcove. Things like this: a mum and her baby boy get on. The baby is about 11 months old and strapped in a pushchair. He is big-eyed and alert. This is a bus for goodness sake; what’s not to get excited about. He’s looking around making eye contact with passengers, taking in the sounds, the colours, shapes, smells; seeking out something to connect with, something to learn, to do, to grasp. His brain must be crackling with electricity. He is full on ready to learn.

Mum parks the buggy so she can see him. She smiles, he smiles back. I’m anticipating a beautiful moment filled with the to and fro of a proto-conversation. Then mum takes out her phone, turns away and spends the rest of the journey on Facebook. Baby looks around for a while then zones out.

Sometimes you don’t see the first bit. The part where the buggy and its child get to face the mum. Once in a while the baby gets the phone and the mum pulls out another, bigger one. If you’re lucky (like I was this morning) nan gets on. She has her grandson for the day and there are no phones. I saw nan entertain baby for 20 minutes with a single bus ticket. She gave it to him and he scrunched it up, she straightened it out, then he examined it, licked it, flapped it, dropped it and waggled it. Then nan rolled it into a ball and played guess where it is. All the while talking to him and asking questions. Inspiring use of the Literacy Alcove.

More inspiring would be a bus company (First Bus, Arriva, whoever) that put poems and rhymes and songs there – instead of  serious lists of imperatives about buggies, wheelchairs and travel-based behavioral priorities. There could be books on strings, jolly cartoon characters talking and reading, big magnetic letters, textures, bells. A giant sensory alcove. Anything! Anything to get mums talking to their children. Lists of questions. Jokes. Funny pictures. Half finished sentences. Just something to start a conversation.

Some kids aren’t born with a silver spoon. Or any cutlery for that matter. They are poor in experience, opportunity and outlook (but not potential). They start school very much behind and many never catch up. One cause is scarcity of language in their first years. Some children start school with a 3000-story deficit and even the most effective teachers struggle to compensate.

We can fix this in the Literacy Alcove. Imagine a 20 minute journey taken 5 times a week for 40 weeks of the year. If mum speaks to baby for half that time at 100 words per minute, that’s 200,000 extra words a year. 600,000 more before they go to school. And that’s just in the bus.

First Bus, Arriva: free rides for mums who have a conversation with their child. The driver can check in her mirror. A fiver every time they sing a song to their baby. Vouchers for asking questions, pointing out interesting things. Rewards for language.

We can do the sums but I guarantee the cost of not doing this is more than fitting out every bus with a couple of posters and a book on a string.

Photo by Matteo Bernardis on Unsplash

Why You Must Lose Control of Your Class


You’ve Been There, Right?

Teachers – here are three classroom experiences that I truly hope you’ve had:

  1. The absolute-rock-bottom-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-toolkit-horror of being in front of a class as control slowly and surely slips from your fingers.
  2. The absolute ecstatic joy of finding the class fully engaged with the task you set them when you return from a 10-minute trip to the photocopier.
  3. The heartwarming, yet sometimes funny feeling of being called ‘mum’, ‘dad’, or even ‘nan’ by one of your pupils. Or all of them.

And why do I wish this (and other similar feelings) upon you? Because they’ll help us to think about effective learning relationships.

Horror, Joy & Humour

You really know the value of classroom relationships when they fall apart (see 1. above). I once had a Year 4 class. Tough kids; poor, wily, wiry, streetwise, emotionally honest and very big-hearted. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t spend time getting to know them – really getting to know them – as individuals or as a group.  The pressure was on for results; the focus on delivering content not developing connections. And so they slipped through my fingers. I tried valiantly to teach them how to spell instead of first teaching them how to care.

With my other classes I did take the time (see 2. above). Trust was there; mutual respect too, and a clear understanding of boundaries. We could do more and achieve more. When I left the room the children kept learning; they stayed on task. And from time to time they would make the slip of calling me ‘mum’. (I did once dress up as Widow Twanky for panto day but that is another story. With photos.)

Take the Time

Quality learning relationships underpin quality teaching and learning. But building them takes time – time which gets pinched by packed curricula and a relentless drive for publicly endorsed results. What if we took the time to get to know our pupils and helped them get to know each other? Do you think time invested like this would actually lead to more effective learning and better results? I believe it does. I know it does. It’s implicit in respected educational research. Relationships built well, build better learning. So how, with the future in our hands, should we develop quality learning relationships with, and between, our pupils; and with/between our colleagues?

Quality Relationships

An ongoing process for starting, developing and sustaining relationships:

  1. Get to know yourself;
  2. Get to know the other person;
  3. Communicate well; and
  4. Troubleshoot when needed.

And some suggestions for getting started:

  1. Know yourself. List three words that describe you; three things you like and three things you’ve learned in the last week.
  2. Know the other person. Find out three words that describe them; three things they like and three things they’ve learned in the last week.
  3. Communicate well. Share the above. Listen. Only think about what you are going to say next once the other person has finished speaking.
  4. Troubleshoot. When relationships break down it’s usually trust or communication in the spotlight. If things go wrong, seek help, own up, be honest, forgive, apologise, move on, learn.

So next time you feel rock-bottom-horror; ecstatic joy; heartwarming humour or any other feeling that’s linked to your educational relationships, ask yourself: What is this telling me about the quality of those relationships? How effective are they? What might I need to stop doing, start doing or simply continue doing to make them the best they can be?

(Thanks –  Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

Three Essential Teaching Questions

white cruise ship on the sea

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

Who Taught You?

I am in the middle of Portsmouth Habour in a 4.2 metre Laser Class dingy. A 128 metre, 6000 tonne ferry is heading towards me. It sounds five short blasts on its horn. This means danger or doubt – I don’t understand your intent. I can sense the captain pulling a cord or pressing a button with her big thumb. Each pull or push (or whatever she’s doing up there on the bridge) is just long enough and hard enough to communicate total and utter incredulity that I am in her way.

Then I hear my Navy instructor shout, ‘Who the f**k taught you to sail?’ I decide not to reply with, ‘You did mate,’  because I’m actually very scared. Then he shouts at me again, helpfully, with information detailing how I might avoid a collision. I survive and the ferry is un-dented; though I sense it rolling its eyes and shaking its head in disbelief as it heads off to dock.

Several weeks later I’m out on the water again this time in the Lake District. Wind conditions exceed my skill and experience. A gust takes hold of the hired boat and it begins to flip. I’m scared. But then, without a thought, I somehow follow the same Navy advice and get back in control. I survive one more time.

Learning with Fear

I’ve not served in the military but the Navy Sailing school in Portsmouth, UK taught me to sail small dinghies. And it taught me well. The instructors did a superb job using a teaching style that combined fear, ridicule and humour. It worked (see above). What I learned when I was frightened was triggered again by fear.

What is your first memory? Getting lost? Being found? Love? Pain? A colour? A smell? Chances are it’s linked with a very strong emotion like fear.  Emotion triggers memory. Memory is learning. So why don’t we see emotions referenced on lesson plans?:

  • Use humour to develop a practical understanding of fronted adverbials;
  • Cultivate the absolute horror of a grade U to motivate your revision this week;
  • Expand vocabulary through an ethos of ironic melancholy.

If only effective teaching were this simple.

What is Effective Teaching?

I want to ask this question and keep asking it. In fact I’m going to ask it twelve times this year; once a month until July 2019. I absolutely guarantee that I won’t find a definitive answer by then. It’s a wicked problem anyway: the only way to approach it is to poke it and see what happens. But the process of trying to find an answer is where the learning value is found.

So far I’ve come up with eight features that might, in some small way, possibly, start to hint at the likelihood of a proposed draft answer to the question. Maybe.  I’ll talk about the first one next time. I’ve also been looking at the diverse views and research of other people – educators, academics and people I meet at BBQs.

Three Questions

So why bother investigating effective teaching at all? For me, it’s down to three questions. I can’t think of three more relevant ones for educators. Here they are:

1. What do your pupils need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors?
2. Which teaching practices work best?
3. How can we learn to use 2. to provide 1.?

1. gets very messy. Politicians, business leaders, parents, teachers, futurologists, journalists and historians each have a different take on it. Quite often they debate it loudly and we don’t get anywhere new. 2, we can do something about so why not make a start:

What, for you, is the most important feature of effective teaching?